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June 4 Weekly Open Thread: The Stick Shift Edition

"Standard transmission."


I'm guessing that there is a sharp divide among those reading this as to what is meant by those two simple words. If you're over a certain age, you probably thought "manual"; a bit younger and "automatic" popped into your head. Used to be that an automatic transmission was an option that many people did without because it was fairly pricey and was generally associated with more upscale cars. You got the StickShiftmanual as "standard" and upgraded if you could afford it; otherwise 'Four on the floor' or 'Three on the tree' were de rigueur in most American households.

Nowadays, many can't drive a manual at all. Me, I learned to drive on an automatic, and my family had automatics nearly my entire childhood, the one exception striking me as rather exotic. I ended up learning to drive a stick on a 1959 Ford F600 fire truck (probably not the best vehicle for that, as I got used to dealing with 500 gallons of inertia to play around with) and only drove a Three-on-a-tree once (and that was enough, thankyouverymuch). The Spousal Unit didn't know how to drive one when we bought her Civic, but she gamely learned and ended up getting 40+ mpgs commuting.

Recently, quite a few articles have appeared proclaiming the death of the manual (e.g., here, here, and here), but at least one other (whence comes the photo) suggests that reports of its death may have been somewhat exaggerated. So we here at Car Lust thought we'd take this opportunity to throw it out there for readers to opine on: Do you drive a manual? Do you even know how? Will you buy one again? We'll also have a special post coming up tomorrow dealing further with this very important automotive topic.

As always, feel free to discuss anything else Car Lust related that strikes your collective fancies.

--Anthony Cagle


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I love driving a manual. But then again, I grew up on motorcycles and the car I learned to drive in (which became my first car) was a stick. The only time I don't like a stick is in metro traffic during peak traffic periods. I hate dealing with it in stop & go traffic.

I always has a manual transmission until about 5 years ago when I bought a Passat. It had the "optional" manual mode, but I never used it. Last week I traded it in on a new Accord, I made sure that my new car was a stick (not that easy to find, actually). I much prefer stick, but then again, I like to DRIVE when I drive. Even my wife likes it, "the new car is surprisingly peppy for a big sedan", although she's not nearly as comfortable in traffic with it as I am. LONG LIVE MANUAL TRANSMISSIONS!

I learned to drive with a 3-on-the-floor stick shift in my parents' 1938 Chevrolet Special Deluxe. My high school years were great, but it was tough keeping my right arm around my girlfriend's shoulders and having to come to a stop sign, unwrap my arm, shift the darn gears, and then try to get snuggly again. The steering wheel had a necker's knob for one-handed driving.

But the car was "loaded" with R&H - radio and heater - and that was all the optional equipment you could get on a Chevrolet at that time. Nothing automatic was available - you stuck your arm out the driver's window to signal for a turn.

I swore that when I got rich I would get an Oldsmobile with Hydra-Matic drive. I never got the Olds, but I have always enjoyed some kind of automatic transmission and have never looked back.

Others may pine for the planetary gears and pedals in a Model T, or the embarrassing hiccups of a manual transmission at stoplights on hills, but automatics nowadays shift far tighter and better than manuals unless the stick shift is operated by Jeff Gordon himself.

Funny story: When the Spousal Unit was still learning how to drive her manual Civic, the first "hill" she encountered was a slightly sloping driveway out of a shopping mall. Fortunately, no other cars were around, but after about four tries to get going up the slight incline we'd rolled back by degrees about four car lengths.

For some reason she just could not get the hang of, you know, GIVING IT SOME GAS as the was letting off the clutch.

Of course, 15 years in now, she complains about MY shifting. . . .

I learned to drive on a manual. My first two cars were both hand-me-down automatics, but when I bought my own car, I bought a manual. When that car died via rear-ending someone (drat the car for not having ABS), I searched high and low to replace it with another manual (a bit difficult since it was just a year or so after Katrina drowned most of the cars in the area). I love driving a manual for a number of reasons, but the top two are the control I have over what the transmission is doing, esp. merging onto the interstate, and the fact that the right kind of guys are generally impressed. I'm mostly kidding on the second part, but it does always get a fun reaction. Frankly, I just find a manual a lot more fun to drive. I like automatics just fine, but they aren't the same. And I have zero idea why people buy sports cars and muscle cars with automatics. To me, it just takes away half the fun of driving a car with that kind of horsepower and response. Oh, the other thing I enjoy about driving a manual: it vastly cuts down on who will ask to borrow your car. hahaha.

So I'm not the only one that freaked out when I found out that 1990s minivans like the Volkswagen Transporter/Eurovan and the Toyota Previa came with stick-shift I got the video to prove it:

I've only driven a manual once in a friends Suzuki Forsa ("Chevrolet Sprint"). It was tricky. Only one member of the family likes manuals, but he's a car guy, so... Since I live in a highly-congested area, which is basically the whole country, only the motorheads, MPG-chasers and the few that prefer simplicity drive cars with manuals.
My family scoffs at the idea of a manual, believing that they're impractical, since there are impromptu traffic jams when you least expect it. I even used to think that using a clutch all the time would do something to the knee. But a college buddy told me that one gets used to it when you build the leg muscle. I'm SERIOUSLY banking on that claim.
At least I know that clutch technology has come a long way. The same friend that had the Suzuki had a Fox-body Mustang with an aftermarket clutch that was so hard, he had to stand up on it to actuate it! Maybe if he'd changed the clutch he would've had more fun with it.

Oh yeah, while looking for the demotivational poster saying that manual transmissions are the best anti-theft device, I came across an actual story that talked about it:

I believe that most robbers in the near future won't know what to do with a stick shift.

Would it be too farfetched that enthusiasts will pony-up to swap in manual transmissions to their auto-only sports sedans, like Mercedes-Benz or Lexus (naturally, this will be a select group, and the trans will have to be an impressive piece of kit to live up to factory standards with the right software to avoid the stock computers from going nuclear)? At least just for the fun of it?

My oldest son is a left-hander, and he prefers driving a stick because it gives his left foot something to do.

I admit that I am a 2-footed automatic driver as well. Only once did it cause me to hit the brake rather than what I was thinking was the clutch. These days, with one of each in the household, I code-switch quite readily.

I have a manual transmission in my 2006 Mercury Milan. I love it, but I live in a rural area. I hate it when I go to the city. I prefer it sometimes because it keeps me more aware while driving. I actually knew someone once who switched from a manual to automatic and started to get into an accident once a month because she didn't pay as much attention anymore.

When my parents decided to get a third car for me to use, my only request was that it would be a stick, so that I would be forced to learn. They both started out with 3-on-the-tree, so they certainly didn't complain about providing me with an '89 Nissan Sentra with a 5-speed.
However, before I even got my license, I learned the finer points of clutch control from driving the forklift at work - a 1946 Clark Clipper (which we still have, and I plan on buying from the company someday). My wife and I have always had at least one car in the driveway with a 3rd pedal; currently a '76 VW Westfalia and a '79 Volvo 242GT carry on that tradition (and I plan to convert my '89 Volvo 780 Turbo).
And when asked for input on the new work truck that would be my daily driver, my only request was a manual transmission...

I'm a stick-shift snob. I began on a '62 Bug and won't drive anything else if I can help it. I have and will teach my kids how to drive a stick - it's a helpful skill. I currently have a '12 Chevy Cruze Eco 6-spd because Ford didn't offer the 6-M in the Focus.

The only automatics I have owned and driven are both Car Lust buys - a '78 Nissan Skyline (I lived in Japan for a while and it was $75 for the car, so....) and an '88 Thunderbird V8.

Learned to drive with an automatic but prefer a manual. I live in the Snow Belt and feel much more in control with a manual in the snow. On the other hand I now own a Toyota with auto as my wife refuses to learn to drive a manual. My former car was a Mazda MX-3 w/manual and it was a real drag as I had to take both cars for service as she could not drive my Mazda.

Articles that try and convince the reader to either hate a manual transmission or consider it antiquated just make me angry. They're written by the sort of people who don't like cars, those that relegate them to be an appliance, and can't understand what people see in them.

A manual transmission is an experience, something tangible. If you get rid of the standard, you might was well get rid of the all the controls, because the automombile would have to cash in it's chips and be painted appliance enamel white. After all, who needs drivers when the car can do it for you and with more efficiency? I'm sure they'll argue for that quite soon.

I learned to drive in an automatic, but learned standard not long after. I actually have no preference for either of them, but I find it depends on the vehicle. I'd rather have an automatic in, say, a malaise era luxobarge, because it wouldn't be right for it not to have one, but in something with at least the inklings of sport pretension, I would take the standard any day.

I'm 21, and both of my cars have manual transmissions. I prefer them, even though I deliver pizza (hours upon hours of city driving), because it gives some modicum of stimulation to the driving experience.

My only gripe goes along with my job. Pizza delivery is good for eating clutches and hydraulics for breakfast (along with brakes, tires, and everything in the front end). In two years of delivering I've replaced two clutches (one on the new car, master and slave cylinders failed at 21K miles and took the clutch with it, then one on the old car, same story at 265K miles). That said, auto transmissions fail too, and are big bucks to replace/rebuild.

I love manuals, and prefer them any chance I get when purchasing (although that is, admittedly, much rarer than it used to be). You actually drive the car when you're steering AND shifting.

My first car was a 1980 Mustang with the straight-6 Falcon engine (that revision of it, anyway) and the C4 3-speed auto. When we were looking, Dad didn't want to buy me a stick because he didn't want me taking my driver's test in one...thought it would make it too complicated. I learned to drive stick in my Mom's Subaru XT Turbo...THAT was fun. I refined my stick skills in my first wife's late-70s Toyota Corona. And I haven't looked back.

Both of my cars are automatics for the first time. My motorcycle is still a manual though.
New automatic transmissions are sometimes more efficient for gas mileage than manuals and they don't seem to fail as much as they used to.
My first three cars all had autos from the early 70's. Big sloshy things, but my fourth car had a sporty manual tranny. I could get to 100mph in first gear (because the speedometer was broken) and it got 47mpg. My first new car was an Acura Integra when that was a new brand and it was a manual.
Now I have a Passat with an Auto that you can select gears which I only do to avoid going down hills in 5th gear when the speed limit is 25mph.
My big old Expedition has the gear selector behind the wheel where it should be, but many cars have it on the place where there formerly was a transmission tunnel. I personally think that only a manual shift selector should be there as it is valuable real estate that could be better used for cup holders or cell phone holders or other buttons and switches that don't fit on the center stack.
The Chevy Volt I drove last weekend still had the gear selector at your right arm even though it only has one speed! In park the shifter is tucked out into the center stack, but you still have to pull it out to go through the PRND sequence. Why why why, I have to ask. (great car by the way).

I drive my own car because it is a manual even though I could drive a company car for free. The company car is even brand new and far more luxurious than my own car, but I just can't be bothered dealing with its inept 8-speed automatic. In drive it is always 3 gears too high to be responsive and in sport it jerks your head forward when you lift your foot off the gas. I blame CAFE for the first problem, but I'm not sure why they couldn't figure out a decent sport shift strategy.

I posted on another thread that all of our vehicles are wife has driven them since she could drive, and out of everything I can remember owning, I've had 3 autos..a 3speed in a Nova, a 2 speed Powerglide in my 62 Impala, and a 3 speed automatic in a Festiva(!).

I learned to shift on a 3 on the tree 55 Belair, same setup on the Falcon that came after..never had anothert till we bought our Studebaker Hawk. I work in a car dearship, and there are guys that will work on her, but I'm told "you have to drive it on the rack".
The Hawks has an overdrive, essentially giving it 5 speeds, as the OD works in 2nd and 3rd gears. Makes her a lot of fun to drive!!

I learned on an automatic, when I had the chance to purchase my own vehicle, I bought a shift stick and never looked back. There are four cars in the household and all are manual. We all like our shift stick, we will not even consider the triptonic, we must have that clutch!
All in all, if you like to DRIVE, you need a clutch, anything less you might as well be on a bumper car, it's childs play.

To all of the automatic lovers I say, try it before you trash it, it is really fun and if like me, you live in a zone with lots of snow in the winter, you will not be "stuck" or slipping anymore, you will be in full control of your vehicle.
Good luck!

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